Peru

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We all know them.  Those people that say, “I’ll do it when…..” fill in the blank.  When I have more money.  When my kids are grown.  When I have more time.  When I am older.  And that phenomenal thing called time occurs and suddenly it is too late and all we have is “I wish I hads….” left.  I was one of those people until I stepped up and decided not to wait any longer.  An unexpected death of a friend spurred me to act before I was one of those wondering where the time had gone.

I had been divorced for three years.  I was a single mom of active teenagers.  I was a teacher.  And I was only identified my those characteristics.  Through the years I lost who I was.  I started finding myself again.  I did ten triathlons.  I started a masters at University of Central Florida.  As I got closer to graduation, I wanted to challenge myself to step out and be a brave individual somewhere where no one knew how I was identified.  I had always wanted to see Machu Picchu so I began the thought of my adventure of hiking the Inka Trial.

I had traveled internationally before, but always had someone to meet and travel with.  This time, I was on my own.  Learning not only about a culture, but about myself.  My children were not keen on the idea of me traveling to a foreign country alone, but we had a year to prepare. My daughter took me shopping.  My son worried.  Despite all of our fears, they dropped me at the airport and with hugs, wet cheeks and well wishes, I was standing there alone.  Almost as soon as I entered the airport, my heart soared thinking about the grand adventure I was about to undertake.  Fear was gone.

After 18 hours of travel from Orlando to Cucso, via Lima, I arrived exhausted and exhilarated!  Pushing my limits, I dropped my bags at the hotel and instantly went to find the trekking company I had booked for the hike.  Brave is one thing, careless is another.  I should have taken into account the altitude and lack of decent food, but excitement took over. One misstep and now I had a knee scraped to the bone and gouges in my palms from a tumble on the uneven cobblestone streets.  What terrible timing.  I had a day and a half to nurse myself, but I started to trek bandaged up.  Push on.

It was an amazing few hours into the hike, then the rain started. I am not sure what else I expected for March in the rain forest, but it was tough.  Basically four days of steady rain.  Day and night.  I was hiking with fourteen strangers that quickly became friends and between us, we found ways to stay dry, enjoy the great food cooked by our porters and laugh.  I took 1500 pictures of things that I never would forget.

The last day as we were coming down into Machu Picchu, I began to slow down.  Smell every flower.  Hear every rain drop.  See every distant peak.  I wondered how I got to be so small in such a big world.  I wondered how to make the best impact.  I knew when I returned, I would be a changed person.  Less fearful.  My children would be proud of their mom.  I hope as they age, they look back at their 45 year old mom, a Don Quixote, and not be afraid to take chances.  Life is too short not to be brave.  Try new things.  Test those limbs.

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Surf’s up!

I’ve been in utter lust with all things surfing as far back as I can remember. However, it was my choice to make ours a long-distance relationship; I worshipped board-carrying athletes from afar. How I wanted to learn! However, the barriers against me were too formidable.

First off, you have to do this sport in the arch enemy of females: a bathing suit. That precluded me from attempting it for all of my teen years and throughout my twenties.

Body issues aside, my thirties made me wiser. This meant that instead of admitting the truth (fear was making me too terrified to even try it), my reasons to avoid learning became more clever. I’d offer up seemingly rational excuses like not having health insurance, the time and costs involved or, something that anyone can understand: not wanting to humiliate myself. Under my “reasonable” exterior was a scared-y cat. These justifications allowed me to put aside any thoughts of me surfing. Still, I loved the sport. Often I went to the beach and watched, I took in surf movies, but my relationship remained a long-distance one. And so it seemed destined to always be. Until “fate” intervened.

They say that one can often find courage when he leaves his “normal” environment. I am proof of that. Vacationing in Indonesia, board rentals and lessons were only a few bucks. Finally I had summoned up the courage: the waves were perfect and no one knew me here. The day had arrived! I was so excited (and scared). While walking on a plank in the road, it gave way and I hurt my shin. It wasn’t going to happen this trip after all. Worse yet, I had myself believing that it was a “sign” from above to never try this hazardous sport. My love got shelved.

Two years later, I was again on holiday, but this time in Mancora, a lovely beach town in Peru. I was doing what I do well. Sitting on the sand and observing the amazing athletes. Something caught my eye. A teensy bikini-clad girl, lugging a board that was bigger than she was, ran past me. Fearless, she dove into the ocean, paddled out and waited for the wave. She looked so confident and regal atop her surfboard. I couldn’t believe it. That little girl was keeping up with the much older and more experienced guys! She inspired me so much that I decided to get a lesson, even as my sage self reiterated old obstacles, pointing out that she was young and limber.

Melo, my gorgeous instructor was charming, but his promise that “If you don’t stand up, you don’t have to pay” clinched the deal.

He made the whole thing like a fun adventure. The moment that I stood up remains one of my happiest memories.

“Yessssss!” I screamed. Ah, shoot. Now I’d have to pay the owner.

Melo looked at me and beamed. He high-fived me, “Mi Reina!”

Could it be that I was a natural? The next time, when I almost kicked Melo in the face, I realized he was behind me, holding the board, stabilizing it for me. We both had a good laugh.

Without his assistance, it was much harder. After a few tumbles, I did eventually get the hang of it and was able to stand up on my own. The peacefulness, the sense of accomplishment, the feeling of being one with the ocean. The moments that I am surfing are the most liberating I have ever known.

When surfing, you are forced to be in the moment. If you start to let all that monkey chatter take over, you lose your concentration and go down. You could crash against rocks or bam into another surfer. Surfers die every year; I don’t want to be one of them.

Admittedly, as much as I had enjoyed our long-distance relationship, this new development takes my love with surfing to a whole new dimension. To have overcome the self-made obstacles at middle age makes the entire affair even sweeter. I recommend surfing to anyone. It’s a road to a freedom that so many never get to experience.

About the author: JC Sullivan has been to over 110 countries and every continent and loves the freedom found in backpacking. Since Peru, she’s surfed in Panama and the Galapagos Islands (Isabella). An award-winning author, JC constantly challenges herself creatively believing that comfort zone is a euphemism for “rut”.

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Mother Earth is My Home
By: Anette Lillevang Kristiansen

The morning mist is dank and muggy. She drags herself along a narrow mountain plateau, listening to the river roaming and hitting the stones several hundred meters below in the precipice valley. Her trekking boots are sloppy with mud, and she can hear the raindrops falling softly on her raincoat on this early morning. It’s not rain, but fog banks condensing over the treetops and transforming the path into puddles and mud.

The stones are rugged, mossy and wet with drops from the thick rainforest vegetation. A green tangle of trees and lianas cover the stepping stones, a bird screams far away and she is cloaked in the chilly mist. The cloud forest embraces and greets her.

She struggles with an aching head and breathlessness, meanwhile she climbs the steep stairs, carved into the rock wall. The ancient decayed stones are worn by time and the cold rough weather of the heights. Further down the path the ancient ruin is unveiled, the mist disperses and she glimpses a divine sight in the distance. The precipitous mossy slopes rise from the deep valley like gigantic pillars of salt. The fog banks glide like spirits over the ancient masonry.

For a while she stops to look at the scenery thoughtfully, feeling tears running and a lump in her throat. The mountains and the high plateau throw her into a trance. She takes a deep breath, but cannot find words enough to fully describe the place. The words are just too poor.

She senses something magical and almost celestial — a kind of primitive force, a mysterious spirit overlying the steel-grey rugged rocks and scarred massifs. She sees the special light, the dramatic beauty and colors that vary in shades of the whole palette.

With eyes closed she touches the worn masonry and imagines how these walls have been left to the wild jungle for ages. Then centuries ago the masonry was released with machetes from a tangle of tropical tentacles and growths, revealing its former might.

The sacred spring water in the narrow channels, cisterns and fountains runs like a labyrinth between the buildings of the ruins, giving the place a beautiful purity and innocence. They run in a zig zag pattern through temples and in front of carvings that were cut in the naked rock. The impression is a masterpiece of unique, well-preserved architecture.

She vaguely senses something she can best describe as a closeness with Pacha Mama – the heartbeat of Mother Earth – a mysterious and powerful ancient serenity, which is difficult for her to define. She is close to the breathing earth, the pulse of the planet. She feels like she has finally returned home after years of endless searching. This place has a spirit she has never sensed before, but in such a mysterious way that it feels well known.

It’s as if the spirits are still here, as if they have never left the place. Their spirits are still to be found among the ancient temple walls. She finds it strange, the impact this place is having on her. She has never been here before, but it feels so secure and well known, as though she only left yesterday. Some people believe we have lived before, that we have been here on earth for many lives and that we are always going back to where we truly belong. This is exactly the sensation she has.

Is it really true, this theory about reincarnation? Have we been here before? Are some of us really able to remember and recognize it? That’s exactly how she feels, when she is staring over the spectacular Inca ruin of Machu Picchu in Peru. She finally has reached her real home and the universe gives a deep sigh.

About the Author
Anette Lillevang Kristiansen is a journalist student and has been traveling the world since 1994. She is a writer for danish travel magazines, newspapers and is editor in chief for the Danish Travelers Guilds magazine called Globen. She is also writing fiction inspired from traveling.

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Elevation GainWe needed two days to get to the peak. Three, if you counted travel. We spent the night in Huaraz, Peru, a small mountain town in the Andes, and before the sun rose the next day we were in a van built for eight but filled with twenty Peruvians. Our bags were strapped to the roof. Everyone’s bags were strapped to the roof. The van wound through the mountains, curving up switchbacks in the middle of the road until the driver heard a horn up ahead. He moved to the right and let the car coming towards us pass. The drive was sunny and as we climbed higher into the mountains, we shaded our eyes from the brilliant light reflecting off of snow covered passes. We passed Mount Paramount and the highest peak in Peru. We passed lagoons and rivers. We passed women on the side of the road selling food out of colorful scarves. The driver let myself and four other hikers off on the side of the road with a few houses and a restaurant to our right, and the trail to our left.

The first day was a short four hour hike. We were in a valley mostly full of cows and full of grass saturated with rainwater and moss, bordered by tall passes and rolling passes. We camped in a field spotted with cows and went to sleep wet from the rain, and woke up wet from the rain. We ate pre-cooked rice, onions, abused bread, and cream cheese before shouldering our trekking backpacks and getting back on the trail. They were heavier today, pulling our shoulders back and slowing us down, because they were filled with wet clothes and a wet tent. The second hike was eight hours. Our goal was to climb the highest peak on the trail, 4,750 meters, and make it to the valley by nightfall where we’d be warmer and drier.

It was cloudy and it rained and for a few collective minutes, we had sunshine. We stopped and ate lunch in the sun, and took most of what we had out of our bags to dry. Once we reached the base of the mountain, the weather changed and we climbed over rocks and up steep switchbacks in thick fog and rain. The higher we climbed, the colder and foggier it became. I fell behind while carefully stepping across the smooth and sharply inclined face of the mountain, spreading my arms like wings to my side for balance and shuffling my feet forward. There weren’t any trees to hold onto and if I had slipped, I would have fallen back onto the wet stone and slid until I hit a big enough rock.

I followed my companion’s voice up the mountain. Everywhere I looked was white. I could only see a foot in front of myself to the sporadic stone steps. I walked with my hands out to my side, holding the rock walls that rose on either side of me, climbing higher into the cloud line. I had my jacket and my thermal pants on, and a bandana over my ears, but I was cold. April in Peru but I was cold.

I climbed higher and the fog turned to rain, and the rain turned to snow. I followed my companion’s voice up until the stone steps ended and I found myself level. I could step forward or I could step back but I wouldn’t be climbing any higher. I could see six inches in front of myself and it was all white. I found my fellow hiker crouched under a ledge, shielding himself from the blowing snow. We sat for maybe two minutes, proud of ourselves for the long, steep climb up. We didn’t see much of the mountain from where we sat, just some rocks and the whiteness of elevation. We sat in the snow and enjoyed the height, enjoyed the feeling of being as high as we could go. We didn’t need the view; we could feel where we were and we could feel where we had been. We could guess where we were going next. We sat in the snow until we were cold enough and we turned back onto the trail and rushed down the mountain, quickly passing the lagoons and rivers that were promised to us as the rain collected and chased us down the trail, flooding where we had been and trying to flood where we were going. We were faster, though. We camped on dry land with a sunset and damp but not wet clothes.

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mancoraAs the driver overtakes a truck on a blind corner the old man beside me dabs his forehead with a handkerchief. There is a bunch of squawking flowers between his feet- two chickens tied together at the legs. We pass a derelict water park. Abandoned slides plunge into the thick green of a swimming pool.

The border is preceded by a series of villages where houses perch angularly on wooden stilts. Mothers linger at windows with babies wrapped in brightly coloured cloths. After a jumble of market stalls and immigration police we cross into Peru. The lush greens of southern Ecuador are replaced by pale desert.

When we finally reach a town the sun is setting. The coach stops and two women climb board. They are clutching orange nets filled with mandarins. Polystyrene coolers rest on their hips.

‘Esta Mancora?’ I ask them.

‘Si, si,’ the first woman tells me.

I rush past before the coach can pull away.

It’s easy to find my hostel in such a small place, and I’m soon heading to the beachfront for dinner. I see a woman that I recognise from the coach. ‘A hellish ride,’ she sighs, and introduces herself. Jane from Australia. I smile, happy to have found a dinner companion.

We chat about our experiences in Ecuador as we stroll along the beach. Plastic tables and chalkboards slant into the sand. We choose a crowded bar. An old man sits in the corner with his ear pressed to the battered body of a guitar. He plucks the worn strings gently with his eyes tightly closed.

We order two bowls of ceviche. Jane tells me about volunteering in the Cloud Forest while we eat the fresh, raw fish. Three other musicians have gather around the guitarist. He leads them in a gentle rhythm with his ear pressed to the wood. Eyes closed, he begins to sing. It is a gravelly song of experience. Suddenly I am nostalgic, although I’m unsure what for.

Barefoot couples dance in the sand between the tables. The rhythm is slow and lazy like the sea. Peruvian Cumbia, the waitress tells us.

The band pause for an interval and the old man walks over to our table with his guitar. His feet are bare. The skin around his ankles is gnarled like driftwood. He props the guitar against our table and gestures towards it.

‘Don’t ask her anything, she knows all my secrets.’

He winks, and his closed eye is an eclipsed moon in the dark contours of his face. Jane is soon chatting to him in fluent Castillano. Victor, he tells us.

‘A drink?’ he asks, and we accept.

He soon returns with three glasses and a pack of playing cards.

‘ Sangre del tigre.’ He gestures towards the drinks. ‘For courage’.

Tiger’s blood? We eye the pink liquid suspiciously. Victor laughs and urges us to try it. A mixture of fish and lemon juice sharpens my senses. He pulls up a chair and begins to shuffle the playing cards whilst explaining a game called Cuarenta.

Although I can’t follow I somehow win sporadically. Victor tells us about Peru as we play. His eyes are animated as he describes his childhood. The hours go by, and soon we are strangers who know each other quite well. When Victor was a boy he nearly drowned in the sea. I tell them about a panic attack when swimming in deep water. Echoes of a past life, Victor says.

When we leave he signs his name across two playing cards. The King of Hearts is pressed it into my hand. ‘To remember me by,’ he says.

Some months later, back in Yorkshire, I am searching for change at a bus stop. My fingers find the dog-eared card in my wallet. I press it into my hand and think of that night when I had shared secrets with strangers and drank tiger’s blood. Oh to be back there, I think.

But then a realisation. That same life is here. Now. There is a rush of excitement as I contemplate what might happen next.

About the Author:  Sophie McGovern is a travel writer, yarn spinner and full time nomad currently living on a canal boat near Bath. Her first novel, House of Mirrors, is almost finished.

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Sunset Boat - 2Tambopata: Waltzing with Butterflies

Bleary-eyed and lethargic, we chug downstream through muddy brown waters as the cool morning air gradually lifts our heavy, squinting eyelids. The breeze is a refreshing change from the cloying heat we are used to and as our spirits are lifted by its tonic touch the boat becomes a chattier place, several languages mixing in a confused but enthusiastic hubbub over the thudding of the outboard motor.

After just over a month of trying to integrate with the people of Puerto Maldonado, a border town in the Peruvian Amazon; after mistakes and miner’s strikes, after panicked cats coming through collapsing roofs, after exotic pet shows and unkempt, city-wide parades; my girlfriend and I had decided to venture into the region’s Tambopata Reserve, and let nature clear our heads.

As it turned out, integrating with the natural world in our limited, excitable manner would not necessarily prove much easier, but it would be infinitely more inspiring. Armouring ourselves with enough nuclear bug-spray to irradiate our children’s children couldn’t save us from mosquito bites in the triple digits. Terrified baby opossums would endeavour to share our bed space with that fluid that babies always seem so ready to share. But whenever our sorry, tired bodies glided gently out onto the tranquil waters of Lake Sandoval, our minds forgot about their complaints.

Off-white butterflies dance gently around the faces of basking turtles. Stiff, formal wading birds stalk the banks, decked out in their tuxedos of blue. Giant otters dive synchronously under the water, and break the surface again, making barely a ripple. In sunshine the lake and its surrounding jungle is peaceful, meditative, still. Reclining in your canoe, dappling a hand in the water, seems like the natural thing to do. As the sun sets a gentle wash of mauve, orange and inky blue crawls across the water and we are sucked into darkness.

Night-time is close and eerie. Unprepared, we become completely reliant on a solitary beam of soft light that our guide, Jackson, flits around the suddenly flimsy seeming canoe. Our eyes strain into the darkness searching for gleaming, alien lights looking back at us. The shining eyes of ten metre caymans are all you see until they are almost upon you. “Coco!”, calls Jackson into the darkness, beckoning them closer. We decide Barney sounds friendlier. At least jaguars don’t swim. Do they?

Stumbling down the pitch-dark trails is equal parts forbidding and exhilarating. Jackson’s spot of light lingers on spiders the size of my hand. “Don’t disturb them!”, he calls out cheerily, before the light darts off in a different direction and we loose sight of them completely in the encompassing dark. By the time we return to camp our eyes are drooping but our grins are fixed as we swap stories of the day’s events over candle-light.

Our day begins and ends, essentially, with the light. Each morning’s 5am wake-up call gets us out on the lake just as the sun breaks slowly over the tree-line. Or finds us enveloped in a thick, smuggler’s fog. Torrential rain doesn’t dampen our spirits, nor does the sunburn that reddens our skin. We jump at any opportunity to explore this magical, interactive landscape. To scope the colourful macaws as they flocked to their clay-licks, to play with blundering beetles in the undergrowth.

The jungle has a magical ability to make the world much smaller. Your field of view draws in much closer, and you become intensely aware of smaller details – sounds, sights and smells. Cut off, even for a limited time, from the all-pervasive web, and with our trickle of electricity dedicated to essentials, we sought out the simpler magic I remember from childhood. Chasing each other recklessly down tangled pathways, ninja-fighting the ever-present mosquitoes, waltzing with clouds of butterflies. By day three even our cerveza pounding, chain smoking Italian compatriots were swinging from vines like giddy children.

I was inspired by Tambopata to let go of my misgivings about a place in the world I thought I had grown tired of. To wake with the morning, and sleep with the night. To take my eyes away from screens and turn them instead to the world around me. And to spend my time immersed in an environment entirely and unreservedly, taking advantage of all around me.

About the Author:  Andrew Fowler is a wandering English teacher and gastronomical adventurer who has lived in South-East Asia and South America for the past four years. He was born and raised in London, UK, and is currently lugging an oversized backpack full of his worldly belongings through Bolivia.

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peru 2Ibn Battuta once said, “Travel- it leaves you speechless and then turns you into a story teller.” When my feet first touched the ground in Peru, I instantly felt changed. Every single step was culturally enriching, from hiking Machu Picchu, to trekking through the Amazon Forest, to running through the markets of Cusco in the early morning. The food had amazing flavors to it, the people instantly inspired me, and the views had me taking photographs every two seconds- in short, I fell in love with a country, and that country became a part of my heart.

It’s true that traveling leaves you speechless- at times, I could find no words to express the emotions surging through my veins; however, one boy, Jorge, changed everything I ever thought I knew about life, and turned me into the story teller I am today. During my time in Peru, I encountered children every single day. From volunteering at an orphanage in Cusco, to walking down the streets in Lima, there were always children around- playing, laughing, or begging. Jorge, though, was different. I met him while I visited an alpaca farm in Cusco. I expected to learn about how alpaca’s wool was used to create clothing; I never could’ve predicted what actually happened though that day. While on the tour a small boy came up to me. I will never forget the way he looked when I met him. He was dressed in bright attire, the brightest being his smile. He followed the tour group around for a bit, and I couldn’t help but talk to him; he was the cutest child I’d ever seen.

“Hola, como estas?” I said to him, in my best Spanish.

“Hola. Muy bien, gracias,” he replied, in a quiet voice. I didn’t know how to respond next, though, because I wasn’t fluent in Spanish. Because I didn’t know what else to say, I was about to say goodbye, until he held up a book to me.

“Lea, por favor,” he said. This boy wanted me to read to him. So, that’s how two strangers, age four and eighteen, who spoke different languages, found a way to communicate. I read to him for twenty minutes, having completely forgotten about the tour. I could’ve stayed there all day reading to Jorge; his enthusiasm was like nothing I’d ever witnessed before, and it was incredibly contagious.

However, after the story had ended, he took me by hand to his house, which was on the alpaca farm. Again, I couldn’t have predicted what I saw next. Jorge’s house was a small hole inside an old, abandoned, shack. He had a blanket, his book, and a ball. My heart instantly throbbed, thinking of all the unnecessary possessions I owned, compared to what this boy had. It was absolutely shocking. We played catch with his ball for a bit, and then I took my notebook, scissors, and markers out of my bag. Jorge’s face instantly lit up, and my heart warmed this time. We drew pictures together, and enjoyed the afternoon.

In Peru, nobody wears watches, and no one is a slave to a schedule. It’s the most serene feeling I’ve ever experienced. However, as the sky started to take on shades of pink and orange, I realized that I had to leave in order to catch the train back to town. Though I’d only known this boy for one day, it was one of the hardest goodbyes I ever had to say. I gave him my notebook and markers, and through his hug I could understand words that were not spoken. He tried to give me his ball and his book in return, but I couldn’t accept them. For the second time that day, my heart throbbed. A boy who owned next to nothing was the most generous person I’d ever met. I wanted to give him the world, but all I had was a notebook and some markers. As he walked me to the train, again by hand, he spoke three words, of which I understood perfectly.

“Por favor vuelve.” Please come back. With tears in my eyes and my throat tightening, I nodded, and gave him one more hug. As I boarded the train, I felt such an overwhelming amount of sadness for having to say goodbye to this little boy; however, I also felt happiness and pride in knowing such a selfless, and sweet child. Because I met Jorge, I don’t care about possessions so much as memories. Because of Jorge, I have a thirst to travel more that can’t be quenched. Though I had arrived at the alpaca farm for a tour, I immediately realized that my time would be better spent getting to know this boy. I don’t regret any of it.

About The Author: My name is Barbara Anne Scheibel, and I am a Childhood Education major at SUNY Oswego. It was my experiences with children in Peru that inspired me to become a teacher. I love writing, traveling, and helping others- especially children.

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RED AND GREEN (16)RThe “Heath River Centre Lodge” is on the river Heath which marks the frontier between Peru and Bolivia; nothing to see except some local miners looking for gold.

Soon after leaving, except the splendid crescent of the moon, the night was complete. The boat had no lights and followed the indications of someone lightening the river with a torch in one’s hand. The silence in the purple night was unforgettable, that was a great moment!

The hotel was far from any human life; we were the only guests having the privilege to enjoy the complete quietness of Amazonia. There was no light in the room, just two poor candles allowing us to move safely; the best thing to do was to go to bed listening to the soft talk of the vegetation.”

We left the following day at 5.30 am to see the macaws. We had around 30 minutes boat to reach a hide : a floating “house” in the middle of the Heath River, it was misty, quiet and we felt a strange serenity…The water was carrying some pack of foam like industrial rejection which surprised me so far away! In fact it was only dry leaves which after falling into the water, decomposed themselves with bacteria making a kind of soap, it was not pollution, but just a natural process!

The wake up of nature is always wonderful. First nothing happened, and then the birds came progressively and by groups. The “show” began at around 7am with the arrival of the green parrots and at 9 am it was the red & green macaws turn.

The green parrots are smaller and with a short tail, they wear feathers on the head and up to their eyes on the contrary to the “red & green macaws which are the largest parrots and with a face completely bald, their tails can be longer than their bodies… They have sharp hooked bills and strong enough to break nuts. Their 2 toes pointing forward and the 2 other pointing backward, allow them to grasp their food.

They come every morning to the “clay lick” obviously to lick the clay from which they find their vitamins, and also to get from it a protective effect against any poison they could eat with their food.

We noticed some of the red and green with a yellow “patch” on the back, it was another type called “scarlet macaws”. Most of the time they nest in the holes of the trees. They live in couple and lay 2 eggs each year but keep only one “baby” alive”. Their main predators are eagles.

It is a spectacular moment which can be interrupted at any time, the macaws are very shy and attentive, that was confirmed when a small and inoffensive squirrel strolled on the clay, suddenly all the macaws flied away and did not come back leaving us with some disappointment. But we were lucky as we had reckoned more that 50 macaws, knowing it was not the best period to see them.

The weather was changing also very quickly, and we waited in the shelter looking at a sudden tropical shower on the Heath River and observing some “dusky tiki monkeys” manifesting their presence after the wet. They were very near in the bush and their shouts very powerful, we felt integrated in their world, and were now listening to their talk with others in the deep bush.

The banks of the Heath River marks the frontier between Peru & Bolivia and the strong rains cause damages which normally bother nobody. In this case, it is different and it is a constant fight between nature and people of the eco tourism hotel.
The lodge is in Bolivia and under an American control. The flood with the time is changing the course of the river and if nobody from the lodge stops it by strengthening the bordure, the hotel will be soon in Peru which will not authorize the concession. The clay lick is on the Peru bank side. If the eco lodge on the Bolivia side became Peruvian, it would have to close because of Peru laws. Therefore, it would be impossible to have the great chance to observe the red and green macaws on the “clay lick” which is too far away inside the uninhabited jungle and that would be a great loss for everybody!

About the Author: Marie-France Grenouillet, I am French and was born in Normandy where I spent my childhood in a village with one dream: to discover the world.
I was supposed to learn languages to have a good job; in fact my motivation was more the idea that it could be just helpful when travelling far away…
Now, I have a passion and present photo galleries of wild animals, covering the five continents and their countries, each gallery featuring mammals, birds, insects and landscapes.
Pictures show what words cannot translate precisely and help us to keep an authentic memory of the past; they are a faithful witness when the souvenirs become with the time just a sepia tone memory!

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peruMy leaden legs plod beneath me. They scream for rest but my mind is resolved to keep moving. I fear that if I stop I may collapse irrecoverably. It feels as though someone has placed a boulder inside my backpack and my body is strangely sluggish. I have only trudged this path for a few hours, but I feel stuck inside a space warp, where my destination always eludes me.

But I focus most of all on my slow breathing, a rattling intake of breath followed by a pathetic exhalation. Oxygen is a shy companion at 4,560 metres.

I’ve made it to the final incline, to a plateau positioned between two mountainsides that are part of Peru’s Andean cordillera. I ascend a dizzying series of switchbacks, thinking only about the reward of lying down at the end – bother the view. My feet are automatons, powered solely by mind-work and the determination that I simply have to reach the top.

I have companions front and back and as we surmount the final peak, we pause to reclaim our breath. A tremendous rumble makes the mountains around us tremble. We start forward again.

We are in a landscape of grey hues. The chalky path crunches beneath our tired feet. Granite boulders scatter the mountainsides which press in close around us. Spotted here and there are purple-grey butterfly tarwi flowers, and beyond is a crumbling grey cliff.

Above the cliff is an ice wall – the peak of Mt Chacraraju sitting majestically at 6,108 metres, but it too appears to be burdened by gravity, and every so often it emits sonorous cracks, murmurs, and rumblings as the ice shifts.

Then, in the midst of this monochromatic scene, we spy an incongruous speck of shimmering topaz blue. It glimmers, beckoning us forward, and we follow it mesmerised. Suddenly the aching in our limbs is forgotten, the boulder has vanished from my backpack, and my lungs have adapted to the thin air. My pain is inconsequential as long as that tantalising blue dot remains in my sight. My legs are shaky from overuse, but they are compelled forward by the promise of the expanding view of Laguna 69.

Soon I am touching the icy water of a lake like no other. Our surroundings remain monotone (an eroding cliff of dust and, higher up, ice) but it only serves to highlight the teal dazzle of the lagoon below. A thin white waterfall plummets from the heavens. Purple-grey-yellow tarwi flowers adorn the lakeshore where we sit to feast on pre-packed sandwiches. We say nothing. Amid such natural grandeur, words seem impure.

My joints groan in protest as I stand up to descend. The path is steep and incredibly slippery. I can’t imagine how I had surmounted this climb only an hour before. From my viewpoint, path snakes through a ravine and along a mountain slope. In the distance it is merely a thin thread worming its way through fields. It is always angled down, which means that in reverse, I had consistently been climbing without rest. Sheer will alone had propelled me forward.

I am not a hiker by nature. I am not attuned to altitude. And my feeble muscles cry in pain at such workouts. As I hike down, I am overwhelmed. The white peaks of the Huascaran mountain range descend to an alpine valley, but it is not the view that overwhelms me. I am awed by my own capabilities and as I descend 600 metres, I foster a newfound sense of empowerment and self-respect that will stay with me long after the view has faded.

About the Author: Amanda Bensted manages A Roamer Therapy, a travel blog that explores what makes travel wonderful, exhilarating, exasperating, and most importantly of all, so addictive. Read more of her stories on her site.

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DSCF1161I follow the long line of people towards the start of the trail. Soft sounds of strange languages circle in the breeze. People are hushed and I am grateful. The morning is just beginning to break, hesitant and gentle in its arrival. We are a convoy of quiet expectation, the pace eager but not rushed. Twigs crackle as each foot is placed in front of the other with purpose and curiosity.

The man in the Panama hat told me to look out for a small sign off to the left. I am not to miss it. If I do, I will end up at the ruins, with the masses. Although I am eager to explore them, the ruins are not why I have come. I have come for the magic.

Another bend, another rise and there it is, tucked into a bush: La Verja del Sol. The Sun Gate. There is no hesitation. I detour to the left and uphill, around a sharp bend and out of sight.

My pace quickens. I want distance from the bus people and their orderly fleet. The new pathway is tougher, steep and narrow. Brush snaps at my legs and flicks at my cheeks. The thumping of my heart is a reminder of the altitude and I slow down, telling myself to relax and enjoy the sounds of dawn. A bird flutters amongst the leaves, the wind echoes through the hills. Eventually I reach a clearing where the trail is surrounded by a soothing emerald blanket. I stop. The ruins are behind me. Below me. I can feel them. But I don’t turn around.

A sigh escapes my lips and it seems to get stuck in the space around me, as if the all-encompassing silence is blocking its flight. This place doesn’t want to be disturbed. Whispery sheaths of cloud linger around me and there is dew on the grass. The air is clean and thin. Standing alone on this hill, there is no chatter or crunching. But the nothingness has presence. It is heavy with heart.

Searching the pathway ahead I see a faint structure in the distance. The Sun Gate. This inspires me to stick to the plan, to experience the marvel from above. Step by step I keep my eyes focussed on the trail and allow the swirling breeze to carry me forward.

The structure of age-old bricks and mortar form a little arch over the path. It is built like everything else I’ve seen in Peru so far, with humble elegance. Slipping my backpack off, I let it rest against the gate. I am conscious of its red and yellow pattern, and how it interrupts the purity of the space.

I turn around.

The breath catches in my throat as I take my first glimpse of the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu lying below. The grey mottled walls, positioned into patterns and layers, cling to the edges of the mountains. The structures mimic the surrounding landscape of mountains, each with their own camel hump pointed vertically towards heaven. Morning emerged somewhere along the climb and now the night-time tresses of soft white cloud shuffle in the cleavage of hills, struggling to rise into the blue sky. The sun’s rays dance amongst the ruins and hills, casting lines of light that deliver on their daily promise of life. Struck motionless by the vision before me, I am filled with white light. In the quiet moments of wonder, there is just one word: Magic.

Meandering off to one side I search for somewhere to prolong my solitude, somewhere to sit. I disappear into a narrow pathway that climbs higher. A dozen steps into my detour there is a shuffling sound nearby and I stop. The hair on my neck bristles. The bushes are thin and I peer into them, towards the sound. A pair of huge, coffee-coloured eyes meet mine and I gasp. Her lashes are thick and extraordinary. The silky tan fur of her face glistens in the sunlight and she chews. Staring back at me, I am not scared, for this llama’s eyes are kind and knowing. She lives here. She is calm and perhaps always filled with white light. I gaze at her in awe. Still. She tires of me and wanders off to finish her meal, but she has shared her knowing for just those few moments and I feel a rush of joy.

Coming to a clearing, I sit and stretch my legs along the grass, twisting out of my shoes. I am aware of how my breath has slowed. The knots I am used to carrying around in my stomach have released their grip. The tiger inside, a constant circling companion, seems to be resting. In this place far away I feel nothing but a light bubbling of the senses and I am happy.

About the author: Tania Leigh: I am an Australian school teacher and travelled to South America on my long service leave for three months. It was a trip made solo, during my mid-thirties, in an effort to clear the cobwebs and inspire thoughts on the second half of my life. My passions include travel and writing, and upon my return, I embarked on a university degree in Creative Writing which has provided me with inspiration and contentedness.